By Stephen D. Bowling
February 12, 1861– In 1738, Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Poor Richard’s Almanac: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” Our columns have always taken the opportunity to look back at the people and events that shaped our community by doing as Franklin noted. One of those important people, who are now almost forgotten, was John Jay Crittenden Bach.
The following biographical sketch of Judge Bach was compiled by Thomas Collins, with the assistance of Judge Bach’s widow. The completed sketch appeared in Collins’ History of Kentucky on page 623.
“Breathitt County and the entire Judicial District of which it is a part holds the name of John J. Crittenden Bach in grateful remembrance. He was a high-minded lawyer, a keen and intelligent citizen, and in climbing up the difficult ladder of success, he rendered service that was never compensated by his individual rewards. In the later years, he was an associate in practice with his son, Grannis, who still carries on the profession of law at Jackson.
John J. Crittenden Bach was born February 12, 1861, on Quicksand Creek, three miles above Jackson, being a son of James and Martha (Hagins) Bach, both natives of Breathitt County, and a grandson of John Bach whose ancestors came from North Carolina as pioneers. James Bach, who died when about fifty years of age, was a farmer, a leading Democrat in his community, and served four years as County Judge.
John J. Crittenden Bach attended school on Quicksand, and also at Rosehill Academy in Virginia and spent two years at old Central University at Richmond, Kentucky.
For three years, he was a teacher and read law in Jackson and was admitted to the bar after his marriage, which occurred in 1887. He practiced in the courts of Perry, Knott, Letcher, Wolfe, and other counties besides his home county of Breathitt, and was distinguished for his well-rounded ability to handle every class of practice. He was appointed a special judge on many occasions.
Judge Bach acquired his education after many years of youth and boyhood. His people are comparatively in modest circumstances, and the money to pay for his higher schooling he earned as a worker in the timber. Later as an attorney, he represented several coal and timber companies.
Judge Bach married Mary Belle Hurst, who was born in Breathitt County in 1858, daughter of Hardin Hurst. She is still living in Jackson. Judge and Mrs. Bach were active Presbyterians, and he was an official of the church and a liberal giver to both church and educational causes. The two sons are Grannis and Herschel. Herschel Bach was born May 3, 1891, and finished his education at Lees Collegiate Institute and is now deputy county clerk.
Grannis Bach was born July 8, 1889, attended Lees Collegiate Institute, and graduated from Centre College at Danville in 1909. He spent a year in the Law School of the University of Michigan, and from his admission to the bar was associated in practice with his father until the laters’ death, which occurred on June 21, 1915. Grannis was elected Police Judge but soon resigned.
In 1914, Grannis Bach married Evelyn Crawford, daughter of S. J. Crawford, of Irvine, but formerly of Jackson. Mr. and Mrs. Grannis Bach have four children: Mary F., Nancy H., Josephine, and Stephen. Mr. Grannis Bach is a Democrat in politics.”
Judge Bach gained state-wide and national fame just after the turn of the century when he served as the attorney for feud leader James H. Hargis and the Hargis Brother Mercantile. Newspapermen who visited Jackson commented on his calm and collected manner and unique legal ability to earn acquittal for Hargis men.
He defended but failed to win an acquittal for his most famous clients. On February 6, 1908, Beecher Hargis entered his father’s store on Main Street and asked for money. His father, James Henderson Hargis, refused and reportedly cursed and may have hit his son. Beech walked to his father’s desk and retrieved a revolver. Walking to his father, she fired several shots into his father’s stomach and chest. The patricide was complete a few minutes later. Bach defended Beech Hargis, who was convicted and sentenced to the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
His association with the Hargis faction gained him a great deal of money as an attorney, but it hurt his reputation. There is no evidence to indicate that he participated in any of the foul deeds that have been attributed to Hargis and his men. His connections led several insurance companies between 1904 and 1914 to turn down the life insurance policies he sought, including a $5,000 policy from Mutual Life Insurance of New York in 1905. They believed his chances of being assassinated were too great a risk.
Judge John Jay Crittenden Back avoided the assassin’s bullets but reported several near misses. Violence did not claim him as it did so many of his associates and clients. On September 19, 1915, Judge Bach’s long battle with the uremic poisoning associated with Bright’s Disease ended at his home on Marcum Heights. The Jackson Times indicated that the “Death had come, not unexpected, to Mr. Bach or his friends.”
“Nestor of the Jackson Bar” was buried on Sunday, June 20, in the Sewell Cemetery on Marcum Heights. His eulogy by William N. Cope identified Judge Bach as “singularly freeform prejudice and jealousy, and the word malice was not found in his dictionary, and he knew them all.” Rev. C. Grosborn Gunn conducted the funeral service at the Bach home, and a large crowd of mourners followed the coffin to the Sewell Cemetery on Marcum Heights for internment.
His wife, Mary Hurst Bach, lived in Jackson until her health deteriorated. She moved to her sister, Esther (Hurst) Steele’s home near Landsaw in Wolfe County. She died on January 4, 1939, at the age of 80. She rests today beside her husband on Marcum Heights, not far from their family home. Their sons, Grannis and Hershel Bach lived until the 1960s and joined their parents on the hill overlooking Jackson.
© 2022 by Stephen D. Bowling